Guest Column: ‘But that’s not how I learned it!’

Many parents found themselves struggling as they tried to help their children with homework last school year. The Common Core curriculum was rolled out and children now do schoolwork a lot differently. Parents discovered that trying to understand homework questions or help with math problems is now quite challenging — if it hadn’t been already.

Helping children with homework does not have to be all about figuring out the right answers. Education researchers such as Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others are proving that character traits such as perseverance and grit matter more than IQ when it comes to predicting one’s ability to succeed.

Homework presents an opportunity for parents to teach children to face obstacles confidently, solve problems and persevere when the work is difficult.

Parents want to raise smart children, but raising children who are smart learners will help them be prepared for a lifetime of learning.

This coming school year, take a close look at how your child does his or her homework — and keep the responsibility for learning with your child. Children will need your encouragement but help them know when to come to an adult for help and when they should think things through on their own. Provide support by making sure they have what they need to do the job.

You’ll enjoy seeing how proud they are when they achieve on their own.

Here are five steps to take before homework time arrives again.

1. Set up your child’s ‘office.’

Is there a place that works best for your child to do homework? Children learn differently. Some need a quiet, low-traffic area with minimal distractions, while others function very well in the midst of all the household action: at the kitchen counter. Sitting in a chair at a desk works for some, but others need to sprawl out on a rug. I’ve heard that sitting on a large exercise ball helps kids who struggle with sitting still in one place for long periods of time. Be creative with your child and have fun finding ways to make the place for homework feel like their “office.” Buying school supplies may mean buying items to create a temporary or permanent homework/study space; consider temporary partitions/space dividers. The investment will be worth it.

2. Set guidelines for iPods, tablets and phones.

Manage the things that compete for their attention. All electronic devices should be kept in a designated location during homework. If children need to call a friend about an assignment or do some research online, they should let you know when they use their devices and when they are finished. Your child needs to show you that they can manage using devices without having them become a distraction. Creating guidelines together with your child will help them become invested in following them and keeps the responsibility for doing their homework with them.

3. Prepare for failure.

Failed attempts, wrong answers and poor grades happen. When they do, many children feel they are being judged as not smart enough. Some avoid failure by avoiding the work, and through very inventive ways. Be straightforward when mistakes are made — “You gave the wrong answer” — and emphasize the recovery: “So let’s figure out what to do about it.” Your child is less likely to feel judged. Learning from mistakes means trying different tactics before declaring, “I’m not good at this!” That’s when perseverance begins.

4. Encourage problem-solving.

Help your child feel capable of meeting the challenges that come with schoolwork and homework. Look for opportunities to have them take part in some family decisions, for example, planning tomorrow evening’s dinner. You will agree sometimes and disagree other times, but the message to send is that their opinion matters and that you trust they are capable of coming up with a solution. Compliment them when they think things through and offer a plan. The ability to problem-solve will carry over to homework. They will learn to think before sending the default message: “I need help.”

5. Gather supportive resources.

A parent mentioned to me that she attended a Parent University presentation in her child’s school district. It offered online resources that children and parents can refer to for support with various subjects. When the school year begins, ask your child’s teacher to recommend online resources that provide support. Let the teacher know that you are open to suggestions for making homework time productive. Be sure that spouses and caregivers are all on the same page with homework strategies. Have a place to save specific details and information you want others to know when you are not available.
Change takes time. When you see your child do homework without any prompting, work through frustrations independently and feel proud of what they accomplish, you’ll know your efforts were worthwhile. Cut and save this article; it’s a back-to-school coupon that may provide lifelong savings.

Angelo A. Truglio is an education consultant who lives in Southold.